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Myanmar: Rakhine and Kachin

Volume 641: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2018

13. What recent discussions he has had with his Myanmar counterpart on the treatment of minority communities in Rakhine and Kachin provinces. (905293)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised concerns about the treatment of the Rohingya of Rakhine in a meeting in Naypyidaw with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on 11 February. I reiterated those messages when I summoned the Burmese ambassador on 6 March. Moreover, I called for the Burmese military to show restraint and protect civilians in Kachin on both 28 April and, most recently, in a public statement on 11 May.

Multiple rapes, airstrikes and genocide—the crimes of the Burmese security forces against the Rohingya, as well as against the Kachin and Shan people, are well documented. The UK Government can refer Burma to the International Criminal Court from the UN Security Council. Will the Minister therefore meet the new Justice for Rohingya Minority initiative to discuss its call for universal jurisdiction and accountability for those who commit these atrocities?

The hon. Lady will be well aware—she touched on this—of the idea of universal jurisdiction, but that is not in place at present. Of course, I am very happy to meet, along with her, the representatives of the Rohingya community, as I have done before. The UK is a staunch supporter of the ICC and we remain committed to working with all our international partners to secure justice for what has taken place in Rakhine. It will be a long process. The Burmese Government have told the UN Security Council that they are ready to proceed with the domestic investigation. That will need to be credible, transparent and impartial and will need, in our view, to have an international component.

As a result of the tens of thousands of rapes in Rakhine province, there are many thousands of pregnant women whose babies may well be abandoned in Bangladesh. Will my right hon. Friend update us on what will happen to those children, should they be born as a result of rape?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she does on this. Like many Members throughout the House, I have been absolutely appalled by the reports of extensive sexual violence in Rakhine, including in graphic and harrowing testimonies on television programmes on both Channel 4 and BBC 2 in the last two evenings. I reassure her and the House that UK aid is already providing comprehensive counselling and psychological support for 10,000 women in trauma and more than 2,000 survivors of sexual violence. Medical aid is also being provided to assist 50,000 safe births.

Save the Children estimates that 60% of the 500,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children. What action will the Government take at the UN Security Council to avoid a lost generation from that community?

I fully appreciate those grave concerns. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the issue of the Rohingya is not one that has emerged only since last August. In many cases, it goes back to the late 1970s. There have been various episodes leading to this, and as he rightly points out, the risk is that it will have an impact on forthcoming generations. We will continue to work with all our international partners, as we are with the EU, to get sanctions to ensure that there is no impunity for those who have brought about these terrible crimes. This is a long-standing issue that will require a patient approach within the international community. Please rest assured that we are very much taking a lead in our role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Apart from UK humanitarian aid, what review is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office carrying out to ensure that we do not support the military regime in Rangoon in any other ways?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a strong interest in these matters. It is important to recognise that, although we were at the forefront of stopping support for the Burmese military last September, there has been a military dictatorship since 1962, and it is for our diplomats on the ground in Naypyidaw and Rangoon to identify the elements—and there will be elements—in the military with whom we need to maintain open discussions. It has perhaps been rather easy to blame all this on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, but there are elements within the military with whom we will need to maintain an engagement.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), two weeks ago the Government proposed a draft UN statement arguing for a credible, transparent investigation into war crimes against the Rohingya and stated that those responsible must be held to account. What is the current status of that proposed statement?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that there has been a great deal of co-operation with the Opposition Front-Bench team. We all recognise that these are terrible issues on which the UK political parties, irrespective of colour, need to work together on behalf of the international community.

We are awaiting the ICC’s decision on whether it has jurisdiction over the deportation of the Rohingya from Burma to Bangladesh on the basis that Bangladesh, unlike Burma, is a signatory to the Rome statute. The Security Council could refer Burma to the ICC, but we know that currently there is insufficient support on the Security Council, and a vetoed attempt at referral would, in our view, do little to further—[Interruption.] It is wonderful to do this as a duet, Mr Speaker, and I could continue doing so, but I hope you will appreciate that these are very serious matters about which people feel very strongly across the House and the country, so I hope you will indulge me for one more moment. We will ensure as far as possible that we do nothing to enhance the role of the Burmese military, and an early push for a Security Council resolution would, in our view, undermine our position.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister of State. I say this principally for the benefit of new Members who might not have heard me say it before: I once asked a predecessor of the Clerk of the House why it was that Foreign Office questions always seemed to take longer than other Question Times, to which, having consulted his scholarly cranium, he replied, “Mr Speaker, I think it is on account of the fact that when Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office address the House, they feel they are addressing not merely the House, or even the nation, but in fact the world.”